Friday, August 1, 2008

Bike commuting is green AND cheap!

I am the first to admit that I am not the perfect greenie. Or frugalista, really. In much of this, I am learning along with everyone else. However, I recently started riding my bike to work again, having done it a couple of times a week last winter. I had been waiting for cooler weather again, but decided to just go for it because, well, I ran out of excuses. It is so much better for the environment, better for YOU and it is cheap! I'm building up to cycling four days a week.

The most fabulous collection of bike commuting tips are here. I could not possibly come up with anything as comprehensive as this.

But I want to add my own tips too, just because I can. The first is some encouragement - yes you CAN ride your bike to work. It isn't the most frugal means of transport, which is walking, but it is way better than anything else around. Anybody who travels 5 miles or less to work can easily bike. 5-10 miles is harder but still doable for the novice. 10+ miles is getting daunting, I admit, but you can work up to it. This recent article in the New York Times talks of one guy who commutes 40 miles by bike. Um, yeah. It might take me a while to work up to that, but hey, you never know. Also, if you live far away, don't necessarily think you have to cycle the whole distance - maybe you cycle to a bus stop, take the bus, and then cycle from that bus stop to your work or school. Buses around here have bike racks on their fronts that are easy and quick to use - even if you have to ask the driver to come out and show you how to operate it the first time, as I did.

As for safety, just be alert, don't be afraid to wear dorky things like helmets and reflective gear, and follow the road rules. Signal with your hand if you are turning. Pay attention. There are risks, but you can minimize them by choosing your route carefully and being alert. And, 24% of bike fatalities involve an intoxicated cyclist, so that's definitely something that can and should be avoided. The failure to wear lights at night or a helmet significantly increases a biker’s risk. Finally, newer riders have to be especially careful about drivers opening doors (you’ll get clipped) and making turns (they can’t always see you), and about riding on the sidewalks (you’ll get hit by cars exiting or entering driveways). See here for some of the safety information.

*Start with one day a week. Fridays are good. You might want to do a few practice runs at the weekend to build up to the mileage you'll need to do.
*Get a helmet. This is an absolute must.
*Get mud flaps/fenders. You will at some point have to either cycle in the rain or go out on rain-splashed streets. You do NOT want this up your bum.
*Get lights. Seriously. No lights, no riding. Even if you don't plan to ever ride in the dark, you just never know when you're going to get delayed at work or if you're going to have to ride home while a storm is brewing.
*Get a bell or horn. This is another seriously. I tried to do without for a while, but I got shouted at several times for not alerting pedestrians to my presence. Pedestrians (especially, I have to say, older women with small dogs) get angry if you don't give them a wide berth as you are going past them.
*Get some reflective/flashing stuff for your bag or person. I like these which can fit on a bag strap. Sing along with me: I'm a dork, and I don't care.
*If your workplace doesn't have showers, take some wet wipes (or a damp wash cloth in a plastic baggie) and fresh deodorant, and wipe yourself down when you get there. Don't try cycling in your work clothes unless you are doing a mile or less. Change when you get there. Equally I'm not too keen on tight spandex that you'd be embarrassed to be seen walking in to the office building in, but whatever floats your boat.
*Use the balls of your feet on the pedals. I want to shout at everyone I see using their arches/middle of the feet on the pedals - you get much more bang for your buck with the balls of your feet as you can get more power.
*Think about changing your route or your hours to accommodate biking. It is much more pleasant cycling to work in the summer if you go earlier in the day when the sun hasn't had as much of a chance to heat the air up. Likewise in the winter you might want to go a bit later in the day. Cycling is also more pleasant if you are on smaller roads - if you normally drive along a busy highway, think about the smaller side streets that run parallel to the highway. Check google maps or for a route. I was able to cut half a mile off a 4.8 mile commute just by carefully selecting streets based on the distances that mapmyrun was showing me.


apieceofwood said...

great post - I'm seriously trying to use my bike whenever I can...

gypsygrrl said...

whoa. i got a free mountain bike recently... it needs work. but wow. i was going to toss it (freecycle ~ still may) but this makes me think about keeping it... right now, i work until 11pm at night and well, unless i can get a concealed weapons permit, i am not too nuts about this... BUT. depending upon where i live once i am a nurse, i might consider this...

thanks madam frugalista for the motivation!


PS ~ i also have not been on a bike in DECADES. so i need some practice before i venture into traffic.

Solitaire said...

Gypsy - a mountain bike might not be the best for road commuting, because of the knobby tires and low gears. But hey, if you haven't been on a bike in years, it'd be good practice while you work your way up! And if you DO get a day job, then you could always get a road bike at that point. Good luck!

Lori said...

Sara, thanks for these tips and links. I'm working up to 12 miles...the commute to work but I won't be able to ride to work until day time temps are under 90.

Gypsygrrl...there may be a bike(city).org in your area. I donated my old bike. They'll fix it up and find a new owner. They even have people put in "sweat equity" like Habitat does in order to get a rehabbed bike.

I ride a bike that's an "urban mountain bike". It has more gears than a cruiser. Some people call them hybrids. I just don't feel comfortable on a street bike with skinny seat, skinny tires.

thanks for the site and tips!